German Chocolate Cake Recipe

German chocolate layer cake

The Spruce Eats / Diana Rattray

Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 37 mins
Total: 67 mins
Servings: 12 to 16 servings
Yield: 1 cake
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
557 Calories
31g Fat
66g Carbs
8g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12 to 16
Amount per serving
Calories 557
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 31g 39%
Saturated Fat 12g 59%
Cholesterol 77mg 26%
Sodium 373mg 16%
Total Carbohydrate 66g 24%
Dietary Fiber 4g 14%
Total Sugars 47g
Protein 8g
Vitamin C 1mg 4%
Calcium 132mg 10%
Iron 3mg 19%
Potassium 246mg 5%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Germany is famous for many desserts, including Black Forest cake and bee sting cake, but the German chocolate cake is not one of them. Samuel German, a Texas baker, developed Baker's German's Sweet Chocolate in the mid-1800s. A recipe using Mr. German's Baker's chocolate was then created by a Dallas woman named Mrs. George Clay, and original dubbed German Sweet Chocolate Cake. The cake, with its light, sweet chocolate flavor, honors Mr. German and his signature chocolate.

This version uses cocoa powder, giving it a slightly deeper chocolate flavor with plenty of that classic coconut-pecan filling between the layers. It's an easy cake to make from scratch, and it's always an excellent choice for holidays and celebrations. It doesn't even require a mixer to make the cake or filling. Just prepare and bake the cakes, cook the frosting and filling, and assemble. It's a piece of cake! 

The cake is beautiful as-is, but add a layer of the optional ganache or chocolate buttercream to the sides and pipe a decorative border around the edge if you want to get fancy. Or add a border of perfect toasted pecan halves. 


For the Cake:

  • 2 cups (255 grams) all purpose flour

  • 1 3/4 cups (348 grams) granulated sugar

  • 2/3 cup (60 grams) unsweetened natural cocoa powder

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 3/4 teaspoon fine salt

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 cup buttermilk, well-shaken

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil or canola oil

  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  • 1 cup boiling water

  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder, optional

For the Coconut Pecan Filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk

  • 4 large egg yolks

  • 1 1/2 cups (320 grams) light brown sugar

  • 3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

  • 2 2/3 cups shredded or flaked sweetened coconut, one 7-ounce bag

  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans, toasted if desired

  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  • 1 dash fine salt

For the Optional Ganache:

  • 1 cup heavy cream

  • 2 cups (340 grams) semisweet chocolate chips

  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Steps to Make It

Make the Cake

  1. Gather the ingredients for the cake.

  2. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350 F. Grease 3 8-inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper.

  3. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large mixing bowl.

  4. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with the buttermilk, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract.

  5. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until blended.

  6. Add the boiling water (and espresso powder if using) and mix until smooth and blended. The batter will be pretty thin.

  7. Divide the batter evenly among the 3 cake pans. You will have about 16 ounces of batter in each pan.

  8. Bake the cake layers for 25 to 28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 20 minutes.

  9. Remove from the pans and place on racks to cool completely.

Prepare the Coconut Pecan Filling

  1. Gather the coconut-pecan filling and frosting ingredients.

  2. Combine the egg yolks and evaporated milk in a medium saucepan and whisk until well blended. Add the brown sugar and whisk to blend.

  3. Add the pieces of butter and place the pan over medium heat. Cook while constantly stirring for about 12 to 15 minutes, until caramel-colored and thickened.

  4. Remove the filling from the heat and add the coconut, pecans, vanilla extract, and a dash of salt. Stir to blend and set aside to cool for about 1 hour. The filling will thicken more as it cools.

Assemble the Layers

  1. Place a cake layer on a cake plate or stand and top with about 3/4 to 1 cup of filling. Add another cake layer and top with more filling.

  2. Finish with the third layer and top with the remaining filling. Leave a little space around the edge if you plan to decorate with piped ganache or buttercream.

Finish With the Optional Ganache

  1. Gather the ganache ingredients.

  2. Place the chocolate chips in a heat-safe bowl; set aside.

  3. Heat the cream in a saucepan over medium heat. It should be hot and steaming, not boiling or bubbling.

  4. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate chips and let stand for 10 minutes without stirring.

  5. Whisk the cream and melted chocolate chips with the vanilla extract until smooth. If you see any unmelted chocolate lumps, place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until the ganache is smooth.

  6. Let the ganache cool for about 1 hour, whisking every 10 minutes. The ganache should be thick enough to hold peaks. Beat the ganache with an electric mixer for about 5 minutes, until it is light and fluffy.

  7. Frost the side of the cake with the whipped ganache. If desired, pipe the remaining ganache around the edge of the cake.


  • If you don't have buttermilk, you can still make the cake with this simple substitute: Add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to a 1 cup fluid measuring cup. Add milk to the 1-cup mark. Stir and let stand for 10 minutes before using.
  • To ensure even baking, make sure your cake layers have at least 1 inch of space between the pans and the sides of the oven.
  • To avoid curdling, make sure the egg yolks are blended with the milk and sugar before cooking and be sure to stir the mixture constantly.

Recipe Variations

  • Two-layer German Chocolate Cake: Bake the cake in two 9-inch round cake pans for about 27 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center of the cake. Reduce the coconut-pecan filling ingredients to the following amounts: 1/2 cup butter, 1 cup brown sugar, 3 egg yolks, 2 cups flaked coconut, 1 cup chopped pecans, a pinch of salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract.
  • Rectangular German Chocolate Cake: Bake the cake in a greased and lined 9-by-13-inch pan for 35 to 40 minutes. For the coconut-pecan filling, use the amounts listed for a 2-layer cake. Top the cooled cake with the coconut-pecan filling mixture.

How to Store German Chocolate Cake

  • This German chocolate cake may be stored at room temperature for 2 to 3 days and will last for up to 5 days in the fridge. Take slices out of the refrigerator 30 to 45 minutes before serving.
  • To freeze, arrange individual slices on a baking sheet and place them in the freezer. When frozen solid, wrap them individually in plastic wrap and put them in resealable freezer bags. Defrost in the fridge or at room temperature.
  • You may prepare the cake layers a day or two ahead of time. Wrap the cooled or slightly warm layers in plastic wrap. Separate the layers with cardboard cake rounds and refrigerate or freeze them until it's time to assemble the cake.
  • You may also make the filling a day or two ahead of time. Store it in the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature before spreading it on the layers.
  • You may refrigerate the ganache for up to 3 days. Let the ganache come to room temperature and then re-whip it.

What is the difference between German chocolate cake and devil's food cake?

A devil's food cake is typically made with more cocoa than a German chocolate cake, giving it a more intense chocolate flavor.

Can you use unsweetened coconut in coconut-pecan frosting?

Yes, unsweetened coconut, either shredded or flaked, is acceptable. The frosting will be slightly less sweet, but it will still be delicious.

Article Sources
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  1. May 09 MO, 2018. Watch: It turns out that German chocolate cake is actually from Texas, not Germany! Southern Living.